CINCINNATI -- Before turning our full attention to free agency, the draft and the 2015 season, let's take one last look back at 2014.
After taking a break around last week's combine, we're finishing this week our position-by-position review of the Cincinnati Bengals' recent 10-5-1 campaign that ended with a wild-card round loss at Indianapolis.
Previous entries in the series. Now we conclude with the specialists:
Highlights: If we include the return specialists, namely punt returner and occasional kick returner Adam Jones, the specialists' series of highlights become even more noteworthy. Jones was named an All-Pro this year because of his return ability. At one point during the season, he led the league in both punt and kick return average. His 97-yard kickoff return against Carolina helped set up a late game-tying touchdown.
As for Nugent and Huber, 2014 was a memorable season for a variety of reasons. In Nugent's case, the season began well as he went 5-for-5 in the season-opening win at Baltimore. He also finished the year on a high note, making 16 of his final 17 kicks. His last make, a 57-yarder in the playoff loss at Indianapolis, set a franchise record. It was the second-longest field goal in postseason history. For Huber, the year was memorable because he made his first Pro Bowl after ranking all season among the league leaders in net punting average. He bounced back well from his final punt of 2013, a kick that ended in a return for a touchdown and a season-ending jaw injury for Huber because of a blind-side hit.
Lowlights: It doesn't bear belaboring too much, but clearly the lowlight of the season for the Bengals' specialists was Nugent's missed field goal as time expired in the overtime period against the Panthers. Going wide right on the 36-yard attempt, Nugent's slice forced the game to end in a tie. Ultimately, the tie had no bearing on the outcome of their season, as they made the playoffs despite it.
Play of the year: Instead of picking one play, we'll go with a game. The game of the year for the Bengals' special teams was the Week 15 victory over the Browns. Not only did the special teams help in the 30-0 shutout, but Nugent also made all three of his field goal attempts and all three point-after attempts just days after his father died. It was a rough week for the organization. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's father also died, as did the father of another team staffer.
Necessary improvements: Coaches already gave an indication last week at the combine that they would like to place more of a focus on identifying potential returners in the draft, especially given the chance receiver/kick returner Brandon Tate might not be re-signed in free agency. Aside from that, the Bengals also must determine if they will re-sign Nugent. Odds are better for his return over Tate's, meaning the special-teams group should have solid returning depth.